Climbing the Cliff Toward Self
I sat opposite the professor, who was the Head of Neurology at a Sydney university teaching hospital. He had my scans and X-rays on the light board behind him. I swallowed hard, a little afraid. He noted my anxiety with a nod and sat with his hands clasped on his bare desk.
“You have MS, undoubtedly, but there are complications. Obviously, it is cyclical and there is a huge underpinning. When were you first sexually abused?”
“When I was six by a cousin.” My words tumbled out without thought.
“And later?” the professor enquired.
This was my childhood pain. I had never spoken of it. I had suppressed it severely. “At seven by my uncle, who is six years older while I was on a visit to my grandmother,” I replied.
“Do you think of it often?” the professor asked.
“No, I have almost forgotten.” I had only dim memories of my young relatives asking me to suck their member and me complaining that it was dirty and not nice. I became afraid of boys.
“And next?” asked the professor kindly.
“My father. I had just turned 13. I didn’t know about my vagina. It was a terrifying experience. He put his tongue down my throat so I couldn’t scream.”
After that, I entered ten years of darkness. My mother knew there was something wrong but refused to accept reality. After I suffered 18 months of chronic illness, I was sent to a religious boarding school in Sydney. I was totally alien.
“I can understand it became worse. It is written on your body. I can see also you have undertaken extensive counselling,” the professor said.
“Yes,” I replied softly.
“Don’t! You must leave Australia and never return. Work in a university environment and write. You have too much sand under your skin and it cannot be erased. Go back to Oxford and find yourself in a place of peace.”
“Thank you, professor,” I said as I gathered my handbag and thought of my return journey home beyond Bourke.
“You have a remarkable store of courage, so use it,” the professor gently replied. I certainly had not had that kind of affirmation since my years with my foster parents. I was emotionally charged. And I was 48 years old.
It took me three years to resolve all my commitments. I joined the staff of the China University of Geosciences, where I was warmly welcomed. I had drawn a deep line over sex, and as my eldest son had said jokingly many years earlier, I was “fully immunized, de-sexed, house-trained, affectionate, and free to a good home.” He didn’t have any takers. I wasn’t up for grabs.
My university apartment was on the fourth floor, and the surrounding buildings were similar, all built at the same time and leased to university employees. I found I was troubled by the regular screams of a young woman in the adjacent block and was told it was not my business.
I was sitting one afternoon after work on my small balcony surrounded by plant pots when the young woman jumped. Her last sigh will always remain with me. I have often thought it could have been me. I placed some flowers at the doorway next to the official tributes. I still think about her as I reflect on my own life.
I turn 70 this year. I have lived in Europe for almost ten years, surrounded by 27 summer shades of green. I go to draw water for my garden at 6 a.m. The adjacent well is ancient, deep, and cold. I fell in twice last year and was rescued the second time by my recluse neighbor who now watches my morning activity from behind his screen of greenery. When I finish, he milks his cow and goes out to his fields to cut hay by hand. He is a very kind and gentle soul I am beginning to love.
My other hours are spent writing children’s stories with environmental themes, gathering medicinal herbs that grow in abundance, and preparing lotions, teas, and healing patches. I have cultivated a peace that I didn’t think was imaginable in my earlier years. I call it my gift of end days.